Slab City Solar

DSCN5108Sleep seems harder and harder to come by these days. Not sure what it is, but I don’t feel overly stressed. Guess I must be and don’t see it. After a fitful night with hardly a wink of shut eye, I was wide awake at 4:30 and didn’t need the alarm to get me up. Made some tea, loaded up my bike, double checked the tire pressures and after a quick stop at the Chevron to double check the oil and water, I hit the road for Slab City. I thought that at this time of the morning, I’d have the road to myself, but that totally wasn’t the case. I was going to take the 805 straight to interstate 8 but as I was nearing the 52 interchange, I noticed that the cop who had flown by me minutes earlier with his lights flashing was doing the criss-crossing back and forth maneuver to slow traffic. DSCN5048As bleary eyed as I was, I had a quick moment of clarity and exited onto the 52 at the last minute. It was a long grueling drive. I as I neared the crest near Laguna, there was a bunch of snow on the road and as I started to drop down the grade on the far side, there were icy patches and several cars had gone off of the road. I thought this was the desert!

I have been researching and hunting for a solar expert in our area and have continually been disappointed. There were a few flakes who didn’t return phone calls and the usual RV repair center operations where the same guy adjusting your brakes would be installing your electrical system. I had spoken to a few who didn’t know what voltage drop was or the importance of overcharging for equalization and I continued looking. I got my hopes up when I found a guy in Point Loma that had a fancy website that looked the part. I tried calling on several occasions only to never get a call back. I e-mailed and got cursory responses, but really wanted to discuss systems and the hardware to monitor them but I got the impression the guy couldn’t be bothered talking to potential customers. He sent an e-mail saying he had spent time with a customer who didn’t pan out and didn’t have time to waste. I put together some specs for a system and sent them to get his input and his reply was that he only installs a limited set of kits that you have to buy from him with no customization for your personal needs.

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Solar Mike, installing solar on the Slabs since 1986

I was back to square one. I came across an article about an eccentric guy named Tim who had a class C motorhome completely plastered with solar panels – the top, sides and even the hood were covered with panels. The photo had a shot of him charging up a guy’s electric car with his motorhome. DSCN5068I got his contact info and he was willing to help me. We missed meeting up, but he called back and said that most of his work was done by a guy out in the desert known as Solar Mike at the Sun Works in Slab City. This is how I found myself driving out past Brawley to have a solar system installed. If there are any quality RV solar guys in the greater San Diego area, please let yourselves be known.

I made the turn onto highway 111 going to Brawley and I had thought from there on to Niland, where I would turn off for the Slabs. I guess 111 branched off somewhere, because I soon found myself lost. Called Solar Mike and he didn’t really understand where I’d gone wrong. After asking at the gas station and turning around I finally found myself on the two lane road out through Calpatria headed to Niland.DSCN5070 A little over 4 hours after leaving home, I pulled up at Sun Works to get my solar system installed. Somehow, I had this vision of Mike being this hands on Guru who would jump on my install and personally focus on my project and get it completed. Not the case, he had a couple of other jobs already in progress and had his guys do the work.

The younger guy, Ajax, got right onto installing the panels on the roof. After a few hours he had that part done, but the more experienced tech, Billy, was still tied up installing heavier gauge wiring onto this older couple’s motorhome

Ajax

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Ajax, putting in the panels

so things kind of came to a standstill. I talked to the elderly gent whose 37’ RV was getting the wiring upgrade. He’s 81 and he and his wife have been full time RVing for 16 years. His wife got him into it by finding opportunities to deliver motorhomes across country for dealers. She drove one and he’d drive one. Then they’d get another one at the destination and take it to somewhere else. After that, she got licensed as an instructor and worked for a few years teaching other women to drive big class A’s trying to dispel their fear of driving these big buses. Guess I can’t whine about it being hard to drive my little class C when this octogenarian not only drives a nearly 40’ bus, but also pulls an SUV behind it.

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2 Renogy 100 watt panels

 

Billy finally got freed up and came over and got into the wiring and installing the inverter. There was lots of going about finding stuff and figuring where to put things with the least impact to the RV. Mike went through the wiring and we opened up the vents and took out the transfer system and he and Billy decided the route they wanted to go and where to install the components. Ajax did all of the heavy grunt work, groveling around under the rig pulling wires and stuffing them into the openings for Billy to connect them inside. We worked all day. I helped when I could but mostly just hung around. I was running on fumes and worrying about what I was getting into and how much money I was spending, etc.

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Billy, getting the inverter into place

Funny how your thinking can turn to the negative and your mind can have a field day when you don’t get proper rest. They were working in the RV so there wasn’t much else to do but sit around the dirt lot and watch people go by.

Mike provides a solar charging station for the Slabbers to come and use to charge up their cell phones. I figured it out after seeing this teen girl with a green Mohawk just sitting around the buses hanging out. When I went out front to get a picture of the Sun Works complex (two buses and a couple of sheds and some old, funky electric cars laying around) I saw the sign and the charger he had set up on a barrel at the edge of the compound. People were constantly coming and going and sometimes the guys would disappear for a spell to take care of some other person’s need.

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Trojan, T-105 batteries

Billy got most of the components set up by the time night fell and they quit for the day. Ajax and I got the two new Trojan T-105 batteries in place so I’d have power for tonight. The inverter is online and working but the remote monitors are still just out and connected to wires. So, tomorrow we will have to cut places for them to mount on the wall and get them hooked up and running and get them all connected to the shunt. I am totally beat and was glad to have some private space as we cleared up the motorhome. I left myself just parked right where we working on it and crashed outside of Solar Mike’s pad. His watchdogs, Ex-Ray and Granny kept a close eye on the place and gave me a

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Magnum MS 2012 2000 watt Pure Sine Inverter

sense of security as I made up my bed and settled in for another peanut butter sandwich and a little bit of reading before falling asleep. Dick had his camper parked up just out back also giving his system an overnight test to make sure all’s well before he heads off to Quartzite, the snow bird’s winter haven. My intention had been to wander around the slabs a bit and see what goes on, but I my eyes wouldn’t stay open and my attitude was going south. I was in bed and sleeping by 8:00.

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